The Fire Service and Higher Education: Occupation vs. Profession

Younes Mourchid discusses the fire service's evolvement from an occupation to a profession that demands complex skills and knowledge


Nowadays in the annals of academia and in the wards of professional schools, there is a commotion about the concept of lifelong learning and adult education in designing program curricula and in defining degree requirements. The former is generally defined as the process of acquiring knowledge or...


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Nowadays in the annals of academia and in the wards of professional schools, there is a commotion about the concept of lifelong learning and adult education in designing program curricula and in defining degree requirements. The former is generally defined as the process of acquiring knowledge or skills throughout life via education, training, work and general life experiences. The latter is generally defined as the art and science of teaching adult learners, also known as andragogy.

Much of what the fire service relies on in terms of knowledge derives from experience, not empirical research conducted by trained scientists in academic settings. We often hear fire service personnel saying in response to a complex problem, “This is how we do it around here.†Lately, however, the fire service has evolved from an occupation into a profession; a discipline that demands more complexity in the skills, ability and knowledge acquired in academic and formal training settings.

We all know of someone who has taken fire science courses at a two-year college; taken courses at state and local fire training academies and through the National Fire Academy (NFA); and achieved various levels of certification. However, these combined achievements have not evolved in a coherent and planned path. The professional development inherent in these combined achievements is usually uncoordinated and fragmented, resulting in duplications of effort and inefficiencies for students. Although the fire service offers numerous certifications, education and training entities, not all of them collaborate with one another. Most fire service agencies adhere to the same standards of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), but their application of the standards varies, as funding and local politics vary.

As a result, a call is sounding for collaboration and coordination among all providers of fire and emergency service professional development. There are major tenets upon which a “profession†is founded, including reciprocity for practicing in different states, universally accepted standards of practice and a professional development model. The work accomplished during the NFA’s Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) Conferences is one of the first responses to the call for the fire and emergency services to transition to a Professional Development Model.

One entity that maintains a commitment to unifying the fire profession training and higher education component is the National Fire Academy. The NFA’s Degrees at a Distance Program (DDP) is a testament to the exact unified baccalaureate curriculum that the fire service needs. The program is an avenue for fire professionals to take college courses that can be used toward a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in the areas of fire administration or fire prevention technology. The program is offered through a national network of four-year colleges and universities.

The DDP program has recently been incorporated into the Professional Development Model of FESHE Conferences. In the spirit of acknowledging the need for research and in-depth academic training, participants in the 2005 FESHE conference resolved that the creation of a doctoral degree infrastructure holds the promise to increase the professionalism of the fire service discipline and improve the quality of life both nationally and internationally. This is a further indication that the fire service is metamorphosing from an occupation into a profession.

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